• As Targets of bullying, shame paralyzes us and prevents us from defending ourselves.
• As members of Targets’ Families, we watch in horror as our loved ones’ lives unravel before our eyes.
• As Witnesses, fear of engagement, fear of threats to our own safety, prevent us from helping targets.
• As Managers, we lack the skills to stop it, confusing bullying with conflict, which we all abhor.
• As HR, we watch helplessly because laws do not compel policies that give us authority to act.
• As Union officers, we are too occupied with survival to see how much our members are suffering.
• As Owners/Executives, we wonder why some of the most admired managers are considered abusive.
• As State Lawmakers, we fear losing business lobby support, so we ignore the Healthy Workplace Bill.
Unrealistic fears, self-blame, rampant institutional indifference, and waiting for regulations are the excuses to not take positive prosocial action today to help those who are harmed by abusive conduct of others. How dare we turn our backs. Are we not moral human beings with empathy for the plight of oppressed peers?
So, just this one week of the year, let’s say “no” to all the rationalizations that sustain bullying in our workplaces. Open our eyes and see the harm caused.
Yes. Bullying costs employers. But bullying carries a tremendous human cost in terms of preventable stress-related injuries to the most capable workers among us.
After being reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill has been moved to a procedural stage called “Third Reading,” which means it is now eligible for a full vote by the House of Representatives. As reported by Deb Falzoi on the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates:
BREAKING NEWS: The Healthy Workplace Bill, HB 1771, has been ordered to a Third Reading in the House. This step is the furthest point the bill has gone in Massachusetts in previous sessions, but this session we’ve reached it much earlier in the session. Progress!
Without a doubt this is good news and increases the likelihood for a favorable result during the 2015-16 Massachusetts legislative session.
MA Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee recommends support of Healthy Workplace Bill
The Massachusetts Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee, an office appointed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court “to enhance and protect the rights of persons with mental health concerns in key areas most closely related to their ability to live full and independent lives free of discrimination,” has submitted written testimony in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill. MHLAC senior attorney Susan Fendell, stated in her testimony that “(t)his bill, if passed into law, will profoundly improve people’s daily lives by creating positive and consequently more productive work environments.”
Attorney Fendell’s testimony shared the story of a client with a learning disability who was subjected to severe physical and verbal abuse by a new supervisor. The client filed a disability discrimination claim, but because he was not able to show that the mistreatment was grounded in his disability, he did not prevail. MHLAC offered this story as an example of the gap that needs to be filled by the Healthy Workplace Bill.
MHLAC’s welcomed statement of support highlights the potential power of the Healthy Workplace Bill to safeguard the mental health of all citizens.
Workplace bullying is endemic in healthcare and education, including higher education, for reasons discussed elsewhere at the WBI website.
Now comes a story of an inept community college administration, at Weatherford College, unwilling to even consider complaints from a long-time faculty member. Professor Karen Lopez Austen about the abusive conduct she faced in the Athletics Department.
So, as was her right, Dr. Austen filed a civil suit claiming sex and ethnicity discrimination along with retaliation for daring to hold the college accountable to operate lawfully and according to internal policies. She probably, like most bullied targets, especially highly educated individuals, expected to find justice in court. We constantly warn targets that justice is rarely found and almost never in court.
Remember, the college administrators refused to hear her complaint. The trial court judge did not allow Dr. Austen her day in court. Judges possess ultimate authority to grant access to their courts.
Judges have two avenues to end cases before they start — dismissal or summary judgement. Targets are typically plaintiffs who sue their employers, the defense. The defense files the motion to dismiss. Dismissal is based on technical details of the case that have not been addressed ensuring that the law cannot relieve the problem — e.g., “including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or failure to join a necessary party.”
When the defense files a motion for summary judgement, it is saying that if the parties don’t dispute the material facts of the case, then the judge can determine whether the defendant is liable based simply on the pre-trial evidence assembled, if any exists. In the case Austen v. Weatherford College, there was no such agreement. The civil case was all about the disputed facts. The college said nothing happened. Dr. Austen said otherwise. Guess what. The judge in Federal District Court agreed with the college and threw out the case based on summary judgement.
In most cases, financially strapped terminated and unemployed targets go no further. But Dr. Austen filed an appeal with the federal Fifth Circuit. It was no surprise that the Appellate Court upheld (agreed with) the pro-administration ruling of summary judgement. Remember, no entity had yet considered the evidence that plaintiff Austen had put together to prove her complaint of discrimination.
Austen’s attorney, Mark Robinett, at the Austin Texas firm of Brim, Arnett & Robinett. P.C., was shocked by the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling. What he found appalling was that his client’s evidence did not matter. In a general letter to the public, attorney Robinett wrote:
… the Court of Appeals held that her evidence did not matter, that she had failed to present a “prima facie” case or “rebut the legitimate reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal) offered by the college. The court also holds, as if it has some basis for making a fact finding (which is a “no-no” for an appellate court) that “(t)he six serious, documented instances of misconduct from the semester after the settlement agreement were the primary reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal).
Robinett, quoting the appellate court’s ruling stated
What matters is not the truth of the underlying complaints and reports, however, but rather whether the college could legitimately have relied on them in deciding to terminate Austen. The college could do so.
In fact, the college president, Eaton, mis-characterized Dr. Austen’s complaint to the Board. The Board never heard Austen’s perspective.
The injustices Austen faced was compounded by the 5th Circuit with its pro-institutional bias that claimed evidence did not matter. Robinett concluded that the court was doing a trial jury’s job without the benefit of live testimony or assessing the credibility of the Weatherford College administrators.
Read Attorney Robinett’s letter countering the assertion that Dr. Austen was not renewed for just reasons. She never got to tell her side of the story to an impartial court.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Cohen, along with seven co-sponsors, introduced HB 1041 on April 21, 2015.
PA joins other states — Texas, New York, Massachusetts, and Minnesota — with versions of the WBI anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) that include employer liability for enabling a health-harming abusive work environment.
In 2015 alone 11 bills have been introduced in 10 states. Since 2003, 29 states and two territories have introduced some version of the HWB.
If you are a Pennsylvanian, go to the State Page for all contact information for lawmakers — co-sponsors and the key members of the House Labor and Industry Committee. Thank sponsors and encourage committee leaders to hold a public hearing for the bill, HB 1041.
For some reason, Vermont lawmakers sponsoring a paid sick leave bill appropriated our the WBI bill name – Healthy Workplace Bill – in 2015. We support paid sick leave, but care most about ending health-harming abuse in the workplace.
Now comes Vermont Senate bill S 143 –An act relating to protecting employees from abuse at work. WBI thanks sponsor Sen. Anthony Pollina. Tenacious Vermont State Coordinator, Sherrill Gilbert, has worked for several sessions to have the HWB not only introduced but heard in committee. Despite the formation of a task force in past years, the historically progressive state has failed to take definitive action against this scourge.
The bill has been referred to a Senate committee on which a former sponsor sits. We await scheduling of a public hearing at which Vermonters can testify about the need for a state law.
In 2015, VT S 143 is the 9th bill to be introduced across the states. Vermont joins Texas, New York, Massachusetts and Minnesota with complete versions (with employer liability) of the Healthy Workplace Bill.
Utah HB 216, sponsored by Rep. Keven Stratton, sailed through the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. The training mandate law drew its definition of abusive conduct from the WBI Healthy Workplace Bill:
“Abusive conduct means verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of an employee to another employee that, based on its severity, nature, and frequency of occurrence, a reasonable person would determine is intended to cause intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress or results in substantial physical or psychological harm as a result of intimidation, humiliation, or unwarranted distress; or exploits an employee’s known physical or psychological disability.”
The law requires state agencies to train supervisors and employees about how to prevent abusive conduct. Biannual training must include the definition of abusive conduct, its ramifications, resources available and the employer’s grievance process. In addition, professional development training will also cover ethical conduct and leadership practices based on principles of integrity. The law takes effect July 1, 2015.
This Time, It’s Personal Will legislation to protect employees from workplace bullying stifle demanding managers?
By Steven Yoder, Comstock’s, March 31, 2015
Carrie Clark, 63, says bullies aren’t confined to playgrounds. Sometimes, they run the whole school.
In 1995, Clark directed an English as a Second Language program in West Sacramento’s Washington Unified School District. An influx of foreign students was forcing her staff to work ever-longer hours. She wrote several reports to the district superintendent documenting the extra load and asking for more help. She got no response, she says. So her teachers union representative suggested she put together a petition signed by program staff.
That got a reaction, but not the one she wanted. The superintendent took Clark off of the school’s committee of department chairs and canceled and consolidated classes. Clark says he called her house and left an odd, garbled message, and one day after a meeting, he followed her into an empty hallway. Towering over her, his face a foot from hers, he screamed that he wanted “no more petitions!”
Scared, Clark quit a few weeks later. She developed tremors in her right side, which she still has, started having heart palpitations and couldn’t sleep. Today, when she talks about what happened, her speech slows to a crawl and her voice quavers like a warped record. A Sacramento occupational medicine specialist diagnosed her with a post-traumatic stress disorder related to her job. After a 20-year teaching career, she’d never set foot in a classroom again. In 2002, she won a $150,000 workers’ compensation claim against the district.
There’s evidence that the superintendent targeted others who crossed him. He took a job in a district near Yuba City, and in January 1999 the teachers association president there told The Valley Mirror that the superintendent verbally threatened her and that she’d asked a court for a restraining order. She also told a reporter that she was having panic attacks for the first time in her life. (The superintendent, now retired, keeps an unlisted phone number and didn’t respond to a certified letter sent to his address requesting an interview.)
Sen. Ron Latz a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party introduced SF 1932. Its first reading was today, March 23. SF 1932 is the complete version of the WBI anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.
Minnesota tried the HWB back in 2011, but the bill went nowhere.
This 2015 bill was referred to the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
In 2015, Minnesota becomes the fourth state to introduce the full bill, joining Massachusetts, New York, and Texas. Four other states amended the full bill and introduce some variation.
WBI thanks Sen. Ron Latz. Visit the MN State Page of the HWB website for details. And WBI recognizes the efforts of our volunteer State Coordinators — Jill Jensen, Debbie York & Scot Adams — who successfully lobbied for its introduction. Next step … a public Committee hearing. Stay tuned.
This is the official home of the national grassroots legislative movement to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. The HWB is the boldest proposed change to U.S. employment law in 40 years. We are a volunteer network of citizen activists working since 2002 in many states to pass the bill into law.
Current discrimination and harassment laws rarely address bullying concerns. Bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal discrimination, but is still legal in the U.S. People deserve more protection against arbitrary cruelty that has nothing to do with work.
"Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little." -- Eleanor Roosevelt